October 18, 1882, The Sun, Page 2, Column 5, THE FALLING CAPITOL.
What a Taxpayer Saw in a Recent Visit to Albany.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN—Sir: By to-day's papers I see that Gov. Cornell has called upon the New Capitol Commissioners, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Finance Committees of the two Houses of the Legislature to meet him in Albany to-morrow to consult as to the propriety of calling an extra session of the Legislature on "the condition of the Capitol." It is high time not only to consult, but to take some positive action in regard to this building, so aptly described by Gov. Lucius Robinson, in a message vetoing an appropriation to continue its construction, as "a great public calamity." I was present when this monstrosity was first occupied by the Legislature for business. Then the painting, the gliding, and the carving were all fresh, the brass chandeliers, weighing in some instances hundreds of pounds, were bright, the two pictures by Hunt on the walls of the Assembly Chamber were new and attractive. Everything was in the finest trim when the gas was lighted on that opening night. The Assembly Chamber was crowded with the elite of Albany, and distinguished men and women from nearly every county in the State were present to give eclat to the occasion. Lieut.-Gov. Dorsheimer, Thomas G. Alvord, who had voted for the original appropriation for a new Capitol when the limit of cost was fixed at $4,000,000 and also for nearly all the subsequent appropriations, swelling the cost to over $12,000,000 before a single room was fit for occupancy, the Hon. Erastus Brooks, and others vied with each other in lauding the building and the architect.
In THE SUN soon afterward there appeared, in its regular Albany despatches, criticisms upon the acoustics of the Assembly Chamber and the wasteful extravagance in the matter of ornamentation. This was received with howls of indignation by the friends of the architect and the local press. But before the Assembly had been in session a month the criticisms upon the acoustics of the chamber were justified by numerous resolutions offered by members for the appointment of committees to improve them it possible. The circles of seats for the members were moved forward, nearer the Speaker's desk, and fine wires were stretched midway in the air over the heads of members. At the close of the session a committee was appointed to sit during the recess and devise, if possible, some further method of improvement. That committee closed up the two immense vaults at each end of the chamber, known as the ladies' and gentlemen's galleries. It was all they could do. They shut of from public view perhaps $50.000 or $100,000 worth of carved sandstone and gaudy painting. But the acoustics of the chamber were improved a little, and the rough boards still stand in strong contrast to the gaudy painting and carved stone of the rest of the chamber.
Last week I again visited the Capitol. The contrast with its appearance on that first night was painful. Though it was high noon and a bright sun was shining, the corridors were dark, gloomy, and dirty. A lighted gas jet here and there only partly revealed the too evident lack of proper care, and, what is still worse, the criminal faults in the construction of the building. On the floor, on the window sills, on the glass, everywhere, in fact, the dust of months seemed to have settled. Occasionally I met a group of young men who wore blue caps and coats with gilt trimmings, supposed to be there to take care of the building. All that I saw them do was to run the elevator, chaperone visitors about the building, smoke cigars, and entertain each other telling stories. No sign of a brush or a broom was to be seen. I presume it would have been beneath their dignity to handle such articles.
On the first floor in the grand corridor I noticed that one of the granite base stones, over a foot square, was cracked entirely through. The crack could be traced ten or twelve feet up the ceiling. The sandstone steps of the grand staircase were worn and the edges were rounded. Through the dust on some of the chandeliers spots of verdigris were plainly visible. The ceiling in many places was stained, as though the rain had leaked through the roof. The sandstone in the corridors was damp and slimy. and the air was as chilly as the air of a vault. The Assembly Chamber was closed to all visitors, but through the courtesy of one of the blue-capped attendants. I was permitted a peep through one of the doors. Scaffolding hid the ceiling from view, and on it were workmen getting ready, as I was informed, to take down the stone ceiling before it should fall. These stones, it may not be generally known, had been finely carved, some of them polished, and then painted after the vault was put up. The paint was peeling from the polished stone in many places. I caught a glimpse of the painting of "Discovery." by Hunt, on one of the walls. It looked as though the dampness from the sandstone had struck through and nearly destroyed it. but the appearance may have been due to the accumulated dust. This picture and its companion. "Progress." cost the taxpayers $15,000, as I am informed. Albanians tell you proudly that the total cost of the Assembly Chamber is over $1,000,000, and invariably wind up with the assertion that it is the "most magnificent meeting room in the world." The closed doors prevented my making a close inspection of the room, but from my peep hole it looked as though the same general lack of attention and care visible in other parts of the building was to be seen there. In the Senate Chamber some little effort has been made to protect the leather upholstery by hanging cotton cloth in front of it to keep out the dust. But elsewhere about the room dust and neglect had full sway. The gaudy tinselling on the walls above the blocks of Mexican onyx had begun to peel off in places; two of the agate window panes in the rear of the Lieutenant-Governor's desk had disappeared, and the whole chamber had a sort of a run-down-at-the-heel appearance. Climbing to the story above the Assembly Chamber, the dust on the floor seemed never to have been disturbed since the roof was put on. Mingled with it were cigar stubs, old quids of tobacco, and other filth.
I retraced my steps down stairs and to the street, figuring upon the probable cost of the building when finished—if it stands long enough to be finished—which it is believed will not be less than $20,000,000, and wondering at the patience of the taxpayers who had submitted to this great swindle. Gov. Robinson was right. It is, indeed, a "great public calamity." The only portion of the building that showed any care was that in the immediate vicinity of Gov. Cornell's chambers and the rooms occupied by other State officials. I spoke to a well-known citizen of Albany of what I had seen. His indignation excelled my own.
"It is," said he, "a disgrace. The men who are placed in charge of that building are political bummers, put there through the influence of State officials, Senators, Assemblymen, and political bosses. They never did, and they never will, do any legitimate work. But even if they were the best men in the world, they could do nothing to counteract the mistakes that have been made in its construction. Gilding and painting carved and polished marble is not the worst thing about it Perhaps some day the whole thing will tumble down, and then the dear people will find out how they have been swindled.
To-morrow, when Gov. Cornell gets the Commissioners, Lieut.-Gov. Hoskins, Speaker Pattcrson, and the financial Solons of the Legislature together, would it not be well if he and they should make a minute inspection of the "public calamity," and, if as bad as pictured, why not recommend that it be abandoned, the stone that is good taken down, and another building erected suitable for its intended purpose? This can be done at a less cost than to go on and finish the building, if the plans and systems that have thus far prevailed in the construction are to be continued. I am told that the cost of heating, lighting, and caring for the building, as now planned, will not be far short of $50,000 a year.
I am neither an architect nor a builder. What I noted in my visit was entirely superficial. I believe that if competent architects and builders who were friends of the people, and not cronies of the supervising architect and the Commissioners, were to visit and critically inspect this building, they would find it much worse than I have pictured it.
Away with the "Public Calamity."
NEW YORK. Oct. 17. H. B. W.